Comparative Effectiveness of Individual Versus Family-Based Substance Use Treatment on Adolescent Self-Injurious Thoughts and Behaviors

Published in: Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, Volume 139 (August 2022). doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2022.108782

Posted on RAND.org on June 21, 2022

by Lynsay Ayer, Joseph D. Pane, Mark D. Godley, Daniel F. McCaffrey, Lane F. Burgette, Matthew Cefalu, Brian G. Vegetabile, Beth Ann Griffin

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Introduction

Self-injurious thoughts and behaviors (SITB) are of increasing concern among adolescents, especially those who use substances. Some evidence suggests that existing evidence-based substance use treatments (EBTs) could impact not only their intended substance use targets but also SITB. However, which types of substance use treatments may have the greatest impact on youth SITB is not yet clear. Based on prior literature showing that family support and connection may buffer youth from SITB, we initially hypothesized that family-based EBTs would show greater improvement in SITB compared to those receiving individually focused EBTs and that the size of the effects would be small given the comparison between two active, evidence-based interventions, and base rates of SITB.

Methods

In a sample of 2,893 youth in substance use treatment, we compared the effectiveness of individually and family-based EBTs in reducing SITBs. The study used entropy balancing and regression modeling to balance the groups on pre-treatment characteristics and examine change in outcomes over a one-year follow-up period.

Results

Both groups improved in self-injury and suicide attempts over the one-year study period, but only youth in individual treatment improved in suicidal ideation. However, the study found no significant difference between the changes over time in the two groups for any outcome. As expected, effect sizes were small and power was constrained in this study given the rarity of the outcomes, but effect sizes are similar to those observed with substance use outcomes.

Conclusions

The results provide important exploratory evidence on the potential relative effectiveness of these two treatments for SITBs. This study supports prior findings that EBTs for youth substance use may help to improve SITB and suggests that different treatment formats (individual or family-based) could result in different benefits for SITB outcomes.

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